It’s the near future, and technology has been developed to allow people to relive moments from their past. They can do it as many times as they want. “Truth is, nothing is more addictive than the past,” says Hugh Jackman’s Nick. Nick ought to know, since he presides over these chronological forays the way a psychiatrist does over a therapy session. They’re called “reminiscences,” hence the title of “Reminiscence.”
The way it works is that you lie down in a water-filled device that looks like a sensory-deprivation tank, only this tank enhances the senses rather than suppresses them. So, yes, reminiscences depend on tanks for the memories.
You can tell what a good guy Nick is because he lets clients — or are they patients? — reminisce gratis if they don’t have the money to pay him. A splendidly sour Thandiwe Newton plays Watts, his assistant/sidekick/guardian angel. She’s dubious when a new client walks through the door — after closing time, no less. Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) is a torch singer. That’s right, an old-fashioned torch singer. Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” figures in the plot.
Mae is a shady lady straight out of film noir. Or maybe crooked is a better word than straight. Jackman falls for her like a ton of madeleines. Ferguson, who was such a welcome presence in the last two “Mission: Impossible” movies, seems lost here. Playing across from Tom Cruise energized her. Playing across from a subdued Jackman, she goes all recessive, and recessiveness is not her thing. Is Mae really meant to be this vapid or does Ferguson just play her that way? She wants to be Kate Beckinsale when she needs to be Ava Gardner.
“Reminiscence” is quite a package: a touch of sci-fi welded to neo-noir, with a love story thrown in. That’s just for starters. The movie is mostly set in Miami. Thanks to global warming, the city’s constantly flooded. Think Venice without gondolas or charm. (The South Florida Chamber of Commerce is not going to be sponsoring many screenings.) Also, to avoid the rise in temperature, people now sleep in the day and work at night. So “Reminiscence” is a dystopian fantasy. Oh, and it’s a thriller, with several murders and various rich-people criminal shenanigans that Nick bumps into. (He and Watts get to see the memories as clients experience them. This is doubly helpful. He gets to learn all sorts of things maybe he shouldn’t, and it means viewers get to watch the memories, too.)
As all those genre elements suggest, writer-director Lisa Joy doesn’t lack for ideas. It’s just that there are too many and few of them original. Joy is co-creator of the HBO series “Westworld,” with her husband, Jonathan Nolan. (Newton is one of the series’ stars.) This is Joy’s first feature. Nolan is one of its producers. That’s worth noting because in several ways “Reminiscence” feels like a junior varsity version of a movie directed by Nolan’s brother, Christopher: an earnest yet maladroit treatment of emotion; a fondness for sweeping, eye-of-God vistas; an even greater fondness for temporal trickeration. Ramin Djawadi’s score sounds a lot like the music of Hans Zimmer, Nolan’s preferred composer; and Paul Cameron’s exteriors (unlike his noir fever-dream interiors) have the crisp, commanding look of Hoyte van Hoytema, who shot Nolan’s last three movies.
Another thing that Joy and her brother-in-law have in common is portentousness. With her it’s far more often verbal than visual. “The past can haunt a man,” Jackman intones in a voice-over. “That’s what they say. And the past is just a series of moments, each one perfect, complete, a bead on the necklace of time.”
Jackman delivers his lines in a muted growl. If there were such a thing as velour sandpaper, that’s what Nick’s vocal cords would be made of. Jackman still has his Wolverine musculature, which he gets to reveal during Nick’s own tank sessions (memory master, heal thyself!), but even when slugging it out with some villain he mostly seems just glum. And when not looking glum he’s glowering. You’d glower, too, if you had had to say something like “Memory is the boat that runs against the current, and I’m the oarsman.” So does that make Charon Nick’s role model? Or maybe it’s another famous character. His parents could have named him after Nick Carraway.
Written and directed by Lisa Joy. Starring Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton. At Boston theaters and suburbs and streaming on HBO Max. 116 minutes. R (strong violence, drugs, strong language, sexuality).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.